Iran have long been one of Asia's dominant forces in five or 11-a-side terms, and now they are looking to transcend this form on to the beach soccer circuit. Under Brazilian coach Marco Octavio, Team Melli successfully qualified for this year's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, beating defending continental champions Bahrain in the third-place playoff in Dubai to book a second successive place on the big stage.
Despite boasting a host of talents who took the continental stage by storm, Iran will nonetheless be short on experience when they tackle the game's elite in Rio de Janeiro. This does not, however, reduce Octavio's confidence in his charges, who he feels are "at least on the same level as the rest of the field in the continental qualifying stage".
It was history a case of history repeated when Iran qualified from their group into the last four at China's expense. Having emerged triumphant over the East Asians in the previous edition's third place playoff last year, a reunion was staged in August.
This time around proceedings did not go according to plan for Iran, as China took a measure of revenge with victory after penalty shootout. But the win, from which China were awarded two points, saw Bahrain book early progression to the semi-finals yet did little to keep their own qualifying hopes on track. Unsurprisingly, Iran sealed their passage to last four by defeating Bahrain, leaving China to rue missed opportunities.
Iran lost out to Japan in the semi-finals but in their crucial
third place playoff with Bahrain, they rebounded from the
disappointment in style, scoring six unanswered goals to secure a
trip to the Copacabana Beach extravaganza, which will run from 2 to
Arguably the most successful coach in beach soccer's history, Marco Octavio guided Brazil to six World Championship titles, which remains a record. He moved to Portugal in 2001 and became the only coach to lead another country to the global crown.
His coaching ability did not go unnoticed in Asia and he was given a job in United Arab Emirates before assuming the Chinese controls in 2006. He masterminded China's rebuilding process and did take the East Asians to the level where they were capable to compete against the continent's best.
It is widely known that the football-mad Iran is never short on talent. Alongside Mohammad Ahmadzadeh, the tournament top scorer in last year's qualifying competition, Farid Boloukbashi emerged as this year's revelation by topping the event's scoring charts with eight goals.
He showed a glimpse of his predatory instincts in the opening match, scoring three times in an evenly-contested match that saw the opponents win after penalty shootout. His fourth goal came in the semi-final test against Japan when he scored the team's third goal. He displayed his full talents as a goalscorer in the third place playoff against Bahrain, netting four goals that left the opposition coach in awe.
What they said
"I'm sure that until November our team will only get better. The core group is different from the one that played in Rio last year; we are younger. They are still learning some things and are picking up confidence. Altogether, we have the potential to really fight for something important in Rio de Janeiro. We won't be happy to simply play the group stage. We want to reach higher."
Marco Octavio, Iran head coach